There are some conversations that no parent or child is eager to have. Talking about physical and sexual abuse with your girl can be uncomfortable for both of you, but a look at the numbers tells us it’s a conversation that can’t wait.
Approximately 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience sexual abuse. In 2017, Child Protective Services investigated more than 3.5 million cases of alleged abuse against children. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and an important reminder to start this conversation today.
Some families might shy away from exposing their children to recent allegations against pop stars, film makers, and organizations, but experts say this is actually an important opportunity to discuss abuse with kids. “Young girls and boys are watching and listening to everything around them,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “They may not be discussing such issues in front of you, but they’re almost definitely thinking about them, and they may even be discussing issues of violence and abuse in the lunchroom at school, or following conversations on social media. By addressing the topics of sexual violence and abuse head-on, parents and guardians can make sure their girls get the facts, understand that they can discuss these topics at home, and know how to be a good friend to peers who might be dealing with abuse.”
Still, the idea of this conversation can be daunting. Nobody wants to scare their child into thinking bad things will happen to them, but on the other hand, not discussing it leaves your girl more vulnerable.
Here are a few points you’ll want to make sure to cover:
Keep in mind that these conversations aren’t a one-and-done type of thing. By discussing the issues of physical and sexual abuse early and often in an age-appropriate way, your girl will be more likely to feel comfortable telling you if someone has hurt her. It may never be an easy conversation to have, but the more times you bring it up, the easier it will get.
Sexual violence and abuse can have a ripple effect. Even just hearing that a loved one has gone through something so horrible can cause nightmares, regressive behaviors like bedwetting, or signs of anxiety-like recurring headaches and stomachaches. If your girl is having a tough time, there’s no need to take this on alone. Reach out to your school counselor or a medical professional for resources and additional help.
It's our job to let girls know that we take what happens to them seriously.